Phish — The Roxy Theatre — Atlanta, GA 02.20.1993
I Golgi, Foam, Sloth, Possum?Weigh>ATR, Divided, Horse>Silent>Fluffhead, Cavern
II Wilson>Reba>Tweezer->Walk Away->Tweezer>Glide>Mike’s->MMGAMOIO->Mike’s>H2->VoL->Kung->H2>Weekapaug->Have Mercy->Weekapaug->Rock and Roll All Night Jam->Weekapaug, FEFY>BBJ>HYHU>Terrapin>HYHU->Hood, Reprise
E Sleeping Monkey
You see that setlist up there? That right there is Phish in a nutshell, particularly the Phish that existed in the early to mid 90s traversing the country time and again building the fanbase we have today one show at a time. By this time they were not quite well known but regarded highly enough in certain regions of the country that they could play a three night run more than 1,000 miles from their home base in Vermont to a sold out crowd and drop that show seemingly without any notice that something like this was coming. Sure, the signs are there if you listen closely enough to the earlier shows on the tour as they warmed up and reconnected after the short break between the 1992 New Year’s Run shows and the Spring 1993 Tour that began about a month later. But up to this point in the year they had not broken out this brand of Phish yet, choosing instead to focus on more straight forward shows that highlighted the songs on the recently released Rift album while interspersing older songs and some new music in as well. Maybe this was the “make up” show for the one at the Variety Playhouse from just under a year prior that got abandoned only a few a cappella numbers into the second set when a flood in the venue caused officials to not allow the band to plug in and play. Trey had hinted at that flood during the previous show’s Colonel Forbin’s Ascent narration but here, seemingly, was the payoff since that night was more about celebrating Fish’s birthday and inviting Jimmy Herring to join in for the back half of the second set than it was about making any kind of larger musical statement. So here it would be, the show that would eventually make this three night run legendary and part of the lasting canon of the band’s legacy, a show that was at least partially nodded to as recently as 07.27.2014 at Merriweather Post Pavilion what with that show’s twists, turns, and returns to the overarching theme of Tweezer while also stringing the majority of the music together without much of a break to to speak of once they took the stage for the second set. Rather than effervesce here about what this night means in the larger scheme let’s dive in and take a look at what really makes this show stand the test of time: the music. Because if nothing else it is the music that tells the story and everything else is simply statistical detail.
First set starts off innocently enough with a few warm up numbers in Golgi, Foam, Sloth before Trey seems to wake up a bit for Possum (this is not to say the playing is off before this just that they really get going as of the Possum). This is your typical straight forward rocking Possum and by now four rocking songs into the set the crowd is fully warmed up as is the band. This brings us to the always fun Weigh and a fine ATR before a Divided that is clean, powerful and pretty… like my wife! Horse>Silent gets us to a perfectly serviceable Fluff and Cavern ends the set which all feels like table setting. There’s nothing bad in this set but nothing great either. You just aren’t going to have a legendary set on your hands when Divided and Fluffhead ‘carry’ the weight of the set. But it is a first set which is meant to focus more on songs than jams anyway so there is nothing wrong with calling the set what it is and realizing that it is all done simply to set the stage for what they get into after the break. It feels like they are just getting ready to drop IT all on us and holy shit are they ever.
Strap in, this second set summary may take a while…
So the second set starts off with one of those slow-ish Wilsons where they drop some secret language (Simpsons here) and a tease (Iron Man – this is just the start of much much much more to come in this set) before ratcheting things up to the peak before working towards Reba and this is a keeper version to be sure. The pace is quick, the playing is tight, and Trey slips in some Woody Woodpecker teasing which works perfectly in this jam that also has some inklings of Stash and Lizards mixed in before they go into Tweezer. From here things start to really get nutty as this one has not only a Low Rider jam but some Das EFX teases (seriously. go spin this and then the Tweezer and you will hear it) before going into Walk Away (tour debut and 159 show bustout!) and then back to Tweezer. Then they segue into Glide which has an undercurrent of Tweezer from Trey as they move through Glide before they go into Mike’s Song (while stretching the Gliiiiiiiiiiide out into the Mike’s intro which is nice). At this point I should probably just start another paragraph because shit gets real.
Mike’s starts up and they are having fun with the lyrics, changing it up a bit and then the next thing you know Trey is playing Reba, then they are playing Tweezer, then Lizards, the Wilson “blap boom”, then a bit of Stash, then back to Mike’s before ho hum I guess we’ll just do MMGAMOIO before going back to Mike’s and then why don’t we just move over into H2 now?Oh and by the way we’re going to do the Vibe of Life with some N2O undercurrents and add in Kung too while we are at it, tease Entrance of the Gladiators and NO2 and then maybe we’ll finish up and head to Paug, ok? Oh, you thought we were done having fun here? Now let’s just go ahead and rip into that Paug before executing a great segue into Have Mercy over the Paug groove (ho hum, only 669 shows between appearances there), working back to Paug, getting into a Rock and Roll All Nite jam (complete with a fan on vocals – in costume as Gene Simmons no less), and then returning to Paug to cap that off. Yeah. So let’s just take a little breather here and reflect on what just happened.
Got your wits about you now? Okay, let’s keep going… FEFY>BBJ>Fish Fun for Terrapin ought to do it. Heck they even throw a tease in there as HYHU gets teased in Terrapin (which also includes a lengthy series of band and crew introductions). 20 minutes later give or take and we are on to a wonderfully open Hood that provides a nice punctuation mark on a fantastic set of phish. This one goes to eleven. Then the Reprise closer really seals the deal and Monkey provides the denouement it typically does for such things in the encore.
So I’m going to tell you straight up that if you are not familiar with this show you really need to just go ahead and spin it straight through. I get if the ’93 sound isn’t your thing and you like the big open jams of later years or cowfunk or ambient washes or whale’d out jams or songs about doing lines with basketball players (that’s what that song’s about, right?) but this? This is canonical phish.This is a brand of phish that many of us cut our teeth on. I have joked in the past that this set is what the 07.27.2014 set II wants to be when it grows up and honestly there’s some truth in it. Sure, they were harkening back to this sort of set with that show but this is what that came from and what people talk about when they refer to ‘turn on a dime’ mastery phish. It is tough to say now how much of this set was planned ahead of time and how much happened in the moment but considering the setting and time period my money is on it all being a spontaneous outpouring of everything up to that point from the band. This is a touchpoint show that can be pointed to as one of those moments when it all came together. The wonderful thing is that for some bands this would be their peak, the thing to which they aspire and a show that they would talk about longingly in the future as ‘that time when it all made sense and just worked’ for them as musicians. But this is Phish we are talking about here and this show is exciting not only for the music it provided us but also that it is just one of many false peaks along the path as they continually challenge themselves and alter their course by pushing the boundaries of what their music can be.
I know I have already written a lot here and I don’t want to go on for too long (too late!) but this show epitomizes Phish in so many ways. Here we have evident the full gamut of Phish with their tight playing, high energy, playfulness, antics, mastery of varied forms of music, ability to alter the show based on the mood of the room, and their eagerness at pushing the envelope. This show not only culminates everything that came before it (recall that the better 1992 shows are high on energy, segues, teases, etc. but a bit light on open jamming) while also pointing openly to the future that lay ahead. It is the type of show you give to people who want to be introduced to the band just to show them the possibilities of what Phish can do. By this time I had enough of a baseline with Phish that when the tapes reached me (pretty quickly, I might add. this show hit heavy circulation very quickly) that I could hear what this show meant in the context of where they were as a band at that stage but if this was your first show or the first tape someone handed to you, honestly, how would you react to it? To my mind, this was the type of thing Trey was always referring to when he talked about people coming to their shows and not being ‘in on the joke’. Just imagine having no baseline for this band and having something like this be your entry point. It would be totally polarizing but hopefully if you are in the right frame of mind could catapult you into the world we all inhabit. This is truly the type of tape I would give to a friend to see if they “get it” when they ask what phish is “really” about (back in the day – now that story is different).
And if this type of show isn’t your thing? That’s fine. We all came into the scene at different stages and for that reason perhaps appreciate different aspects of what make the band what they are to us. But even if this isn’t your favorite flavor of Phish you have to realize the significance not only of what this set means musically but also in the larger picture of where they were headed soon after this. The jams would only get bigger and more open from here but the spirit of this show shines forth in other classics that came after it such as 05.07.1994 (Bomb Factory, of course), 06.22.1994 (Columbus, OH), 07.13.1994 (Patterson, NY), 12.01.1994 (Salem, OR), 12.14.1995 (Binghamton, NY), 06.27.2010 (Merriweather Post Pavilion), and the aforementioned 07.27.2014 (also MPP). It would eventually pave the way for the four song set era where sets generally did not have much of a stop if at all in getting through those massive jam vehicles. Now it is yet another tool in the arsenal that they can call on or ‘get to’ when pushing the music forward. And having such a versatile band is one of the things that attracts us to following them, is it not? I mean, who would want to go see basically the same show time and again year after year? That’s just boring.
You have read more than enough on this topic so with that I will end this post. If you do not yet have this show memorized I strongly urge you to get on that homework. There are much worse things you could do with your time than to revel in the jaw-dropping greatness of what still stands as one of the top shows the band has ever played.